Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quantity over Quality

It's always at this time of the semester--two weeks till the end--that I'm blinded by busyness. There's grading to be done, papers to write, meetings to attend, and holidays to plan. In the wash of things, I find myself being quiet at home (or, rather, my wife finds me being quiet) and relatively inactive. Once this comes to the forefront of my mind, I remember my priorities, try to leave work at work (at least until the kids go to bed, then I buckle down), and try to be fully present while home.

When I look back at the memories I have from when I was as old as my kids (2-4) there are some stand outs: my birthdays, Christmases, my sisters being born, and the like. But besides those special dates, much of my memories are wrapped up in normal days. Taking my brother to school and counting the minutes till he came home; my dad coming in the door from work; playing in the back yard; going shopping. After all, these "regular days" make up most of my life.

And it's also these regular days that make up most of our emotional memories. It's these regular days that are so important to our kids and their development.

I was lucky that my parents were never divorced. I understand that there are plenty of situations out there when a divorce may improve the quality of a kid's life, but it never would have been the case for me. Growing up, by the time I was in high school, most of my friends lived in families torn by divorce; most stuff kept at their mom's houses with stripped-down bedrooms waiting for them every other weekend at their dad's house.

Almost always, their dads tried to make up for things by spending "quality time." I understand the impulse with every fiber of my being; if I only got to see my kids every so often, I'd want each time to be a memorable event, trapped in the amber of their minds never to deteriorate. But that would not and does not make up for all the time spent apart.

It's the minutia of our everyday life that affects us. Our children see us as a model for adulthood (and life) every moment they're around us, not just as we shuttle off to Disneyland or the fair. Surely those big moments are important, but they will never be outweighed by the quiet moments at home, playing Hi-Ho-Cherri-O or reading books or playdough or drawing with chalk on the driveway or grocery shopping.

Incidentally, I imagine that it goes this way with marriages, too. Women want involvement every day, not just when the week closes, two precious days before we clock back in to work. Time spent together cooking, talking, playing video games, working around the house: this is quality time, no matter how mundane we may be driven to see it. My wife and I have made a ritual of a couple times a week sitting out in the garage after the kids have gone to sleep, her throwing pottery and me noodling on guitar. It not my subpar music that brings us together so much as the chance to just be with each other for a while.

My brother and I had a weekly ritual in college. We called it our "quality time." No matter how busy we got with school and homework and social lives, we always spent Monday nights together. Even if we spent the entire weekend at the beach with friends, it was just the two of us on Mondays. My brother didn't even answer the phone at this time (something I still can't believe). And what did we do? We watched WWF wrestling while eating Little Cesear's Pizza (the Monday special across the street from our apartment was five bucks for a large pizza and a two liter of Pepsi and we each indulged in our own). It was a ridiculous ritual; we could have chosen to do anything, exciting things, expensive things, big things. But sitting together for two hours while Stone Cold Steve Austin battled it out against Vince McMahon was a fine time for two brothers to talk about their week together.

Consider this during the holidays. The "special" times will never be as special as the actual time.

1 comment:

Seth said...

Very well said and excellent advice. I just realized myself that I need to put my "projects" to the back-burner and do more things with my kids. Once I started doing that, my stress level went way down.